Interview with Scott Schirmer (Found, The Bad Man) (en)
This is the english original of this interview.
Hi Scott! We appreciate your taking the time to answer our questions. How are you today?
Oh, I’m taking medication to keep the existential dread at bay.
You’ve once said that a making of in a souvenir magazine of The Empire Strikes Back inspired you to become a film maker. Now you are one. Is it like you were expecting it to be?
It wasn’t the magazine, it was the movie itself. The ‚Star Wars‘ movies had a profound impact on the entire world, but I think it was especially inspirational for kids my age. I was 6 when ‚Empire‘ came out and 9 when ‚Jedi‘ was released. Star Wars was such a huge part of my childhood. At first, I wanted to make robots because of Star Wars, but it turned into filmmaking by fourth grade, I believe. It’s not at all like I expected it to be because as a kid, I wanted to work in Hollywood. I wanted that all the way up into college. But once I started making independent movies, I really enjoyed the freedom there. And after spending a couple of years in Los Angeles and talking with a lot of people in the industry, I decided it was really a crazy game out there — one I didn’t have the patience to play. I mean, you can toil for decades out there trying to make one single movie. Fuck that. I’d rather just make the goddamned movie myself.
Your feature film debut was highly praised by the audience and critics as well. Was this something you’d have expected?
No. I loved ‚Found‘ desperately. My passion for it brought me out of a five year absence from making movies. But we shot that movie off an on over the course of eight months, and then I edited it for four or five months. So I’d really lost a lot of my objectivity about it, and I had no idea what I had once I’d finished it. After I showed it to some of the crew and some trusted friends, I started to realize it might be something special. But I expected to enter a few contests and hopefully win an award or two. I had no idea it would play at 40 fests around the world and win dozens of awards. That’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Were you thrilled to go on to your next project after this success or did you feel the pressure to make it as good?
There was definitely a lot of pressure that I put upon myself. I wrestled with whether or not to direct ‚Headless,‘ and ultimately decided it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. I definitely wanted to be involved, so I coproduced and edited, while Arthur Cullipher did a great job directing that one. I then intended for ‚The Bad Man‘ to be my second movie, but the crowdfunding campaign failed miserably for that project back in 2015. So ultimately, I decided ‚Harvest Lake‘ would be the sophomore movie. I made that movie with Brian Williams, and we made a concerted effort to throw expectations and pressure out the window and just have a fun time working together making a movie that might not be for everyone — it was a grand experiment, without any regard for how it might be received. And we’re really proud of that movie, and pleasantly surprised that it resonates with people.
Sex and violence are two main parts of your movies. What is it that fascinates you about this combination?
I feel like sex and violence are so interconnected, really. Intercourse often pits people physically against each other, involves physical penetration and something of a power struggle. It’s an activity that encourages people to drop their inhibitions and give into primal urges. Sex can elevate us or scar us. It can be a wonderful or a horrifying experience. It’s excellent fodder for storytelling.
In Plank Face we see the rare case of a man being raped by a woman. Did you intend to inverse the roles of sexual assault or was it more like coming naturally with the story?
I’m always interested in trying to portray men the way women have traditionally been portrayed in movies. Because men in society are so often forced or compelled to act like ‚tough guys,‘ but I know for a fact that they do not really feel that way inside. They’re scared, curious, and mystified just the same as women. So my hunch is that though men may not admit they are interested in seeing the tables turned in a movie, a lot of them really do appreciate seeing that sort of thing, and relate with it on some level. I know I certainly do.
How hard is it for you to find actors and actresses for such graphic scenes?
My movies are kind of retro-engineered. I usually only write a script if I know I have access to the locations and actors required. Everything is kinda made to order. Like, for ‚Plank Face,‘ we cast most of the parts before we wrote it, and we also had the locations pretty much secured. For ‚Space Babes,‘ we only started writing the script once we had the strip club location secured. Because at my level of no-to-very low budget filmmaking, there’s no sense writing a screenplay free of constraints, when you know you’re going to have trouble getting the resources to make it. It’s smarter to write what you know can get shot. I have stories that are written already, but that I may never get to shoot because of how many locations are needed and the size and demands of the cast. So I quit writing those kinds of stories a few years ago, and now I only write what I know I can shoot.
In your newest feature film The Bad Man sex and violence play again an important role. What awaits our readers?
‚The Bad Man‘ is a psychological horror movie about a woman and a man who are being stripped of their humanity. I thought that was a good idea to make into a movie, because the only things we every truly possess are our physical bodies and our peace of mind. So when the evil clown in ‚Bad Man‘ starts changing the characters in appearance and in behaviour, I thought, ‚What could be more terrifying?‘
How did you come up with the idea for The Bad Man?
That’s always a complicated question. I think ‚Found‘ and ‚Headless‘ had gotten me into a frame of mind to push myself, to see how dark I could get. And I think ‚The Bad Man‘ is really the answer to that question. Nothing will be darker than this movie. I think it was actually kind of therapeutic for me, because after ‚The Bad Man,‘ I think I’m going to take a bit of a different direction with my movies. Never say never, because you never know what will happen and a good script is a good script and all, but I’d like to make some more ‚fun‘ horror movies instead of these kind of dramatic horror movies I’ve been making the last few years. We’ll see what happens.
What was the shooting like?
I loved shooting the movie up at the mansion in Michigan. The cast and crew were sequestered there for a week, we slept and ate there — it was like having a week-long summer camp or something. Only it was in January in Michigan. We worked hard, all day and night, from around 10am to midnight, but it was kinda fun. Especially in hindsight.
Which scenes were the most challenging to shoot?
At the mansion, the cast had some difficult scenes to get through, but nothing was especially difficult for me up there. My biggest difficulties were with the rest of the shoot in June last year — everything after the mansion portion of the movie, including the human trafficking auction and the escape from it. That last act of the movie was shot in just 3 days, and they were the hottest three days of the entire goddamned year. It was seriously 100 degrees when we shot the scenes in and around the Mantis character’s tent. Everyone was dying from the heat. Especially me. Hands down the worst day of filming in my entire life. And that whole weekend, due to scheduling and financial constraints, was such a rushed, hurried shoot. I didn’t get to do a lot of double takes or finesse things the way I normally like to. The weather threatened to shut us down for 2 of the 3 days. It was war. But thank the movie gods — we got it done, and I think everyone kept their spirits up despite all the challenges.
Are there some scenes which you are especially proud of?
I’m especially proud of the Christmastime bedroom scene between Mary and the Clown, Ellie Church and Arthur Cullipher. I think they both do their best acting in that scene. I also love the scene in which the Clown forces PJ to howl after raping Mary. I think Jason Crowe went to a disturbing primal place to make that happen, and it’s a thing of dark beauty when he simultaneously howls and cries. I’m very proud of the cast in this movie.
Do you have a favourite character in the movie?
My favorite would probably be PJ, because I’m fascinated by the breakdown of civilized people. His transformation is very interesting to me. Mary doesn’t really change — she just pretends to. But PJ actually transforms. And I’m also interested in Dave Parker’s character, Charlie. Whenever a character is quite or mute, I always want to know more about that character. The relationship between him and PJ is interesting to me, too. Because while it’s antagonistic in the worst way possible, once PJ’s broken, he kinda goes to Charlie for comfort and assurance. A little bit of Stockholm syndrome, maybe.
The Bad Man has to be cut over 20 Minutes in Germany to get a „FSK 18“-Rating (only allowed for adults), which means that even adults are not able to see your movie in full length, if they don’t want to import it. Is that comprehensible for you? At which age should people be allowed to see your movies?
I think 18 is a fine cut off. Anyone 18 or over should be able to make their own decisions about what they can watch. I have no idea what 20 minutes have been removed — it’s hard to imagine that much of the movie missing, really.
Your movies target a rather small audience. Is this a conscious decision of yours or would you like to have a bigger audience?
I’d love to have a bigger audience! If it were big enough, maybe I could quit my day job and make more movies!
You often focus on the dark corners of your characters mind. Is it important for you, that this is psychological accurate and how do you prepare yourself for this?
I’m not sure how I could really prepare for it. If it seems to make psychological and emotional sense to me, I go with it. I know some people would like more information to help them get from point A to point B, like in ‚Plank Face,‘ I know one of the criticisms is that Max makes his transformation too abruptly. But I really don’t feel that way. I think if you watch the movie by yourself and let all the quiet, contemplative moments in that movie wash over you as I hoped they would, you’ll be placing yourself in Max’s shoes more, and maybe you’ll make that transition with him more easily. But if you’re watching it with others and only half-paying attention, or in a rush to get through those quiet moments, I can see where you might find it too abrupt. I like movies with prolonged silence — like when Luke Skywalker is staring at the twin suns in ‚Star Wars‘. No dialogue, but that look of longing and the John Williams score tell you everything you need to know about how badly that farm boy wants off that planet. We’re supposed to look in the characters eyes and ask ourselves, ‚What would I do in his or her place?‘ That’s where the magic of movies happens. You have to be willing to interact with the movie, instead of being spoon-fed every bit of information point-blank.
Which horror movies from the last 5 years would you recommend to our readers?
‚The Witch‘ is a fucking masterpiece. Far and away the best horror film of the last 20 years, I would say. I also enjoyed ‚The Loved Ones,‘ ‚Midnight Meat Train,‘ and ‚Eden Lake.‘ Some of those are probably older than 5 years ago. I honestly don’t love a lot of horror movies. Most of the indie ones are all right — more than the studio output, anyway. I usually like them, but I seldom love them. ‚The Witch‘ just blew me away, though.
What can you tell us about your next projects? Are planning to make another horror movie?
I haven’t decided what might be next. I’m considering a wide variety of ideas, many are horror, but not all. I really want to make another one, but raising the money is always a challenge. It takes at least 6 to 10 grand to make one. I’ve been able to raise 20K for movies in the past, but after the disc manufacturing, shipping charges, and fees, you barely break even at that point. So I’ve got to find angel donors to contribute that initial 6 to 10 grand. If anyone out there wants to finance a movie, let me know!
Is there anything you want to say to our readers?
Indie filmmakers are having a really hard time right now. More than ever before. While technology has made it easy for anyone to make movies, it’s become that much harder to make any money with them. Amazon is purging indie films left and right — especially horror titles. If you find out exactly what distributors are looking for, you can make some international deals, but you have to find a sweet spot where the movie is graphic and gory enough, without having to be censored in different countries. Piracy is a huge problem for everyone. Digital doesn’t make much money for filmmakers, but self-released DVDs and blu-rays still do. So if you love indie films or indie filmmakers, please try to support them with a few bucks every now and then. Buy directly from the filmmakers if at all possible, because Amazon takes 50 or 60%, and retailers take at least 25 or 30%. Distributors find all kinds of reasons not to pay the filmmakers, too. You’d be horrified. So support us at cons or support us at our websites (scottschirmer.com!) if you can. We want to keep making movies!
Thank you so much for taking the time. We wish you all the best!
Interview by Thomas Ortlepp and Florian Halbeisen.
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